Sheriff Downey talks marijuana, homeless issues and civil rights at Garberville Rotary

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Dave Brooksher

Redwood Times

Humboldt County sheriff Mike Downey met with members of the Southern Humboldt community as a guest speaker at last Tuesday’s meeting of the Garberville Rotary Club. The engagement was largely a question and answer session – with Downey addressing his own talking points when the audience declined to offer up a topic of their own choosing.

One of the first issues raised was the connection between marijuana growing and Google Earth, and how user-friendly satellite surveillance data may lead to an increase in theft and violent crime by making grow operations easy to locate by using the Internet.

"Google Earth has really come along with technology, to the point that you can get on there and pretty much find anything you want," sheriff Downey said. "A lot of people are concerned about that. I’m concerned, and I think probably the sheriffs in neighboring counties are concerned too, because what they’ve done is identified sites for increased crime in other ways. Rip offs, armed confrontations and that kind of thing."

Readers may remember back in October when a traffic accident in Mendocino County claimed the lives of two men who were later found to be in possession of handguns, body armor, and directions to Shelter Cove that were printed from Google Maps. That incident sparked fears that the vehicle’s occupants may have been visiting the area with the intention of robbing a grow operation – and sheriff Downey believed that we may see more of such activity.

In light of how easy it is for members of the general public to locate Southern Humboldt’s larger marijuana grows using satellite surveillance, another member of the audience asked sheriff Downey to explain the federal government’s role in local marijuana enforcement.

"There’s an appreciation for what we have going on here, they understand it. But they don’t have the resources to really deal with it. They’ll be the first to tell you what you’re doing is wrong. They’ll rattle the sabers – but they don’t have the ability to back it up. You look at the number of large scale commercial grow operations we have here, if we took one tenth of one percent to San Francisco and tried to have them prosecuted federally, we would clog up the system.

"There’s a lot of silliness," he added, "built into the marijuana laws and how they’re dealt with federally, because they don’t have the ability to deal with it successfully."

Sheriff Downey also suggested that last week’s election results, with recreational legalization of marijuana in two states, might take California off the national radar.

"Now one thing that might happen, especially with these last elections in Washington and Colorado, is that the focus may come off of California and go towards those states which have gone toward the legalization of marijuana," Downey said.

One local business owner expressed frustrations with the local homeless community, asking sheriff Downey for an explanation as to why the district attorney’s office doesn’t prosecute more low-level nuisance offenders. Downey responded that he could not speak for the DA, and added that many of these issues are social in nature – and dealing with them has not traditionally been part of law enforcement’s core mission.

Another member of the Garberville Rotary Club asked sheriff Downey to talk about his involvement with a group frequently referred to as "constitutional sheriffs," loosely affiliated with the controversial National Constitutional Sheriffs’ Association. According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the National Constitutional Sheriffs’ Association has been described as extremist and anti-government by it’s critics – and includes Arizona’s infamous sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County as well as Mendocino County sheriff Tom Allman and several others in Northern California.

"My association with the group is not as great as some of the other sheriffs. I do believe in a number of the things they’re talking about. I do believe that counties, and the people that live in those counties, should have the ability to legislate the way that those folks need to go," Downey said.

photo caption:

REDWOOD TIMES PHOTOS BY DAVE BROOKSHER

1. Humboldt County sheriff Mike Downey was the guest speaker at last week’s meeting of the Garberville Rotary Club.

2. Garberville Rotary Club gathered for a Thanksgiving luncheon at the Healy Senior Center in Redway.

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